Shipping Your Illicit Software On Launch Hardware

In the course of a career, you may run up against projects that get cancelled, especially those that are interesting, but deemed unprofitable in the eyes of the corporate overlords. Most people would move, but [Ron Avitzur] just couldn’t let it go.

In 1993, in the midst of the transition to PowerPC, [Avitzur]’s employer let him go as the project they were contracted to perform for Apple was canceled. He had been working on a graphing calculator to show off the capabilities of the new system. Finding his badge still allowed him access to the building, he “just kept showing up.”

[Avitzur] continued working until Apple Facilities caught onto his use of an abandoned office with another former contractor, [Greg Robbins], and their badges were removed from the system. Not the type to give up, they tailgated other engineers into the building to a different empty office to continue their work. (If you’ve read Kevin Mitnick‘s Ghost in the Wires, you’ll remember this is one of the most effective ways to gain unauthorized access to a building.)

We’ll let [Avitzur] tell you the rest, but suffice it to say, this story has a number of twists and turns to it. We suspect it certainly isn’t the typical way a piece of software gets included on the device from the factory.

Looking for more computing history? How about a short documentary on the Aiken computers, or a Hack Chat on how to preserve that history?

[Thanks to Stephen for the tip via the Retrocomputing Forum!]

16 thoughts on “Shipping Your Illicit Software On Launch Hardware

  1. “subverting power structures”

    I like the cut of this guy’s jib. I remember my first job. It was just a bunch of us working on the project (a display terminal). We were just having fun. One guy ported Asteroids and Pacman to run on the hardware (an M6802 with, IIRC 2k of static RAM). We were going to try to get it into the ROMs, but it didn’t fit. We did manage to include a command that allowed download of code into display RAM where it could be executed (this was LONG before Evil People on the web, and both the company and the terrminal are long dead)

    Those were the times when engineers were pointed in the right direction and told to have fun

    1. I’d reckon a good fraction of humanity’s achievements are the product of passion and not a drive for money.
      I’ve personally been taken advantage of by employers but I stayed because I could see the value in my work and got satisfaction from it. My friends who told me to leave, well, I told them where to go too.

    2. I’ve done it.
      I worked a government job and we got a budget cut.

      10 man shop down to 3.
      2 weeks notice.

      I spent the 2 weeks rewriting all the procedures required to actually work with the equipment and software.

      Then I spent 3 more weeks coming in to familiarize the 3 remaining people and work out the bugs in the procedures.

      There were 3 of us that worked unpaid, because it literally had to be done or people would be hurt.

      The 3 remaining people managed to keep things running for a few months. Barely.

      The first time something went even a little wrong everything collapsed.

      They got emergency funding 2 weeks later, and next year they got the budget for 8 people plus a procedures manager.

      If we had let the system fail when we left lots of people would have had a “bad” month/year.
      By letting it fail a few months later, the people most inconvenienced also happened to be those who could effect the budget.

  2. I once saw a thing on TV where a German building, datacentre, was shown where you would enter by stepping in a 1 man ‘capsule’ which then would rotate toward the inside, that way nobody could sneak in with the person since only 1 person would enter at a time.

    They only showed it in passing so I don’t know how many people worked there and if there would be a line at the start and end of a businessday, I expect it was for a low personal count setup which is typical for datacentres.

    In general in europe they have had pretty tight security in such places I gather, often every door needs some sort of identification to pass through and not just the entrance. and of course cameras everywhere.

  3. Kind of genius of Apple.
    “Cancel their project, but conveniently forget to disable their badges and have everyone pretend not to notice that they shouldnt be there.”

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